The Giver – Lois Lowry

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Winner of the Newberry Medal, 1994.

The Giver is set in a futuristic world where all aspects of society are governed by strict rules.  All pain is removed by strong medicine and all feelings (from emotion, to hunger, and cold) have been eradicated; even colours and music have been removed, to provide a “sameness” which protects the inhabitants from fear.

Every year ceremonies are held in which 12-year-old children are assigned their future role in society. Jonas is honoured with the task of being the “receiver of memory”. He is sent to learn the secrets of the world, from the tired, old Giver. He quickly learns the truth behind his community, and has to decide what to do with his new, disturbing knowledge.

Many aspects of the book were reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but The Giver failed to develop the characters as well as those in Suzanne Collin’s futuristic world; this book felt very brief and shallow in comparison.  The beginning was excellent, but it seemed to fizzle out as it progressed, and I found the ambiguous ending a bit of a let down.

There were lots of moral issues high-lighted, and I think it is very beneficial for children to discuss these  – I can see why this would make an excellent text for children to study at school. The book questions the structure of our society, and whether it is better to be dictated to by others, or have the freedom to make our own choices. This book was temporarily banned from many schools in America (ironically, increasing it’s profile!) as it was thought that the themes of euthanasia and violence were inappropriate for the young. There were brief passages of violence, but these were not graphic, and were important to the message of the book,  I wouldn’t hesitate to give this to a child to read.

This is the first of Lowry’s books I have read, but despite my criticisms I still plan to read the rest of the trilogy soon.

Overall, this is a thought-provoking read, which I highly recommend to all older children, but it lacks the complexity or power required for a satisfying adult read.

Adult Rating: 
Child Rating (8 – 12 years-old?) :  

Have you read this book? Do you enjoy reading books aimed at children, or do you need more complex plots to be satisfied?

I’d love to hear you opinions!

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  1. Molly says:

    One of my book club students at school chose this as the one book she wanted to discuss as a group this year (she claims it is one of her all-time favorite books).

    I will be reading it soon, as the class discussion takes place May 4. I very much enjoyed your review and will post my reactions to the book soon.

  2. Jackie says:

    Molly – I’m really looking forward to hearing what your students think of it – what age group are they? I’m sure that they will find lots of things to talk about – this is a perfect book for a childrens book group!

  3. Sandy says:

    You are quite right…for adults, you are left wanting more, but I generally feel that way with all the kids’ books. But as a YA book, it is enough. Any more and you would lose them. I think Lowry’s books are clever and have many imbedded messages that are wonderful talking points that I have had with my kids. The YA genre is a new thing for me, but I’m finding it enjoyable to share it with Ryan and Emma, and it also does come in handy for the days I work at the kids’ library! (FYI, we just started Hunger Games!)

  4. Beth F says:

    I’ll look into this trilogy, but it sounds like it’s for an audience that’s a bit younger than I like. I love YA fiction and fantasy, but I like the target group to be teenagers. This one strikes me as being for a slightly younger group.

  5. Jackie says:

    Sandy – I think the problem was that I read The Hunger Games so recently, and even though they are aimed at roughly the same age The Hunger Games is so much better. The Hunger Games is amazing for adults as well, and it covers many similar themes, so direct comparisons are hard to avoid – I’m sure you’ll love it! I can’t wait to hear your opinions.

    Beth – I wouldn’t really recommend it for adults, although it is a very quick read, so if you’re interesting in finding out about it then it won’t take very long to get through.

    I’m beginning to discover how many great YA books are out there too!

  6. Christina says:

    I loved this book when I read it back in junior high, but I was 11 at the time, so maybe that had something to do with it. I always wanted to read more of her books, but never did. Your review has made me want to check out The Hunger Games now, though.

  7. Jackie says:

    Christina – I wish I had read it when I was in school, as I think it would have made much more of an impact. I hope that you do manage to find a copy of The Hunger Games – it really is brilliant!

  8. I’d like to read this at some point, I didn’t really realize what it was about.

  9. Jackie says:

    Amy – I’m pleased that I’ve filled you in on it! It’s a quick read – so if you find a copy I hope you enjoy it!

  10. pussreboots says:

    I enjoy Lowry’s books. The Giver was one of the first of her books I read. I’m currently enjoying The Willoughbys also by Lois Lowry.

  11. Jackie says:

    Pussreboots – Her writing style is very easy to read. I’m sure I’ll read lots of her books in the future!

  12. Rebecca Reid says:

    I loved this book when I read it as a teen (when it first came out). I have been wanting to reread it. I don’t recall any of the things you mention as being disappointing. I also haven’t read any of the rest of the trilogy.

  13. Jackie says:

    Rebecca – There was nothing really wrong with this book. It is just that I have read so many amazing books now, that this one only came across as average. I’d love to know what you’d think of this if you re-read it as an adult.

  14. Jennifer says:

    I read it as an adult and really enjoyed it. I tend to love dystopian-themed books, though so I was an easy sell. :)

    I also liked the companion novels that follow this book, but The Giver was my favorite.

  15. Jackie says:

    Jennifer – Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog! The Giver always comes out on top in other reviews I’ve seen, but I’m still looking forward to reading the others in the series.

  16. Laura says:

    Last year my daughters and I read all three (The Giver, Gathering Blue and Messenger) and I liked them a lot. I don’t read much YA fiction now, so I’m not qualified to compare them to other YA books. I think they’re good to read together, but if you did not care for The Giver, you might not like the other two. It will be interesting to read what you think!

    Here’s a link to my thoughts on the three:

  17. Molly says:

    We will discuss this book in Monday’s class. I think it will be an interesting discussion. The student who selected the book read it several years ago (she is now a high school junior) and absolutely loved it. I am very interested to see if her reaction is the same at this point in her life (she is an avid reader and really enjoys complex novels and character development). I am also anxious to hear the reactions of the other students (mostly juniors and seniors) who will be reading it for the first time.

    I will report back next week and let you know how it goes. I plan to make it a blog post as a part of my book review.

  18. Jackie says:

    Laura – I loved your joint review – it was really helpful! Sorry for not replying to your comment earlier – I have no idea how I missed it before.

    Molly – I look forward to reading your post on it. I hope that they have all enjoyed reading it.

  19. jess... says:

    i absoloutly loved this book it was amazing i love how the utopia turned into a dystopia but i hated how the people were colorblind….jonas and the girver were the only people who could felel love ,see color…. and the giver could hear music and i hate how everyone is the same and it is an amazing book because the imperfectons in that utopia

  20. Jackie says:

    Jess – Thank you for taking the time to stop and comment on my blog. I can’t imagine seeing the world in shades of grey – I’m not really sure what the benefit to their society was supposed to be in not seeing colour, but I agree – it must have been terrible.


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